Charles M. Blow: My Christmas gift to myself was to own my pride

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This Christmas, I introduced my boyfriend to my family. He was one of the greatest gifts I ever gave myself. It was the gift of demanding to be seen by the people I love in my fullness. It was the gift of forcing my worlds to collide and therefore become singular. It was the gift of living in truth and walking in freedom.

My extended family has developed a tradition of getting together to celebrate Christmas the week before so everyone can be home with the main family on the actual day. This also has the advantage of allowing people to move around when roads and airports are less crowded and to go out together for activities when bars, restaurants and entertainment venues are still open.

The place of celebration varies among family members. This year, for the first time, I hosted relatives at my home in Atlanta — and only for the second time as a host. When I lived in New York, it was too far to ask the whole family to travel, as most of them still live in the South.

I decided that if my family came to my house they would meet the person I was dating. That simple. But for me it wasn’t that simple. I never got the feeling that they were open to gay life.

In fact, he found them hostile to it. My mom wasn’t happy with “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” [fogo trancado nos meus ossos], a memoir I published in 2014 in which I came out as bisexual. She never called the book by its title. The few times she referred to it, she said, “You know, that book you wrote.”

When it turned into an opera, only one of my four brothers went to see it. My mother didn’t, although she went to see the movie showing at the cinema. She didn’t tell me what she thought. But one of my brothers died a few years ago, and that event completely changed me.

Now I start every decision with a question: If not now, when? His death infused my life with urgency and clarity. There is no time or space for fear or indecision. There is no time or space for wasted days and years.

I have to live—now, fully, fiercely. I had to stop being self-destructive and living with self-protection and self-forgiveness. In my case, it is no exaggeration to say that my brother’s death not only changed my life, but saved it.

I thought I was being rejected, which plunged me into darkness. When my brother passed away and went into the light, I chose the light. Part of that was choosing to light up all my corners, to make sure everyone I loved knew who I loved and how I loved them.

My boyfriend is a dancer and choreographer. He was doing a show in California the day my family arrived, but he flew out early the next day so he could meet them before they left. My family had no idea he would be there. Aside from my kids and their cousins, I wasn’t even sure they knew it existed.

For two days before they met, I had terrible tension headaches. But I just took some medicine for the headache and told myself it was something that had to be done.

That Saturday, he walked into my house with my entire family there, and I reflexively introduced him with a joke: “Guys, this is my boyfriend. He and I dated two and a half years ago. If anyone is shocked by this, take a deep breath and swallow hard. You’ll get through it.”

My family responded the way I had hoped: no one missed a beat. They hugged him and made him a plate, shared love and laughter. My youngest son asked him with a wry smile, “Do you need me to make you a drink?” My brothers started asking about him and his work.

Later, we all rode the BeltLine in Atlanta (even though it was cold) and that night we went bowling. More love and laughter.

In short, my family might disapprove of this supposed lifestyle, but when confronted with the truth about my life and a flesh-and-blood person I loved, they responded with love because they loved me.

I should have been overjoyed by all of this, but an overwhelming feeling of regret swept over me. I’ve waited and worried for so long! It was years, decades of sadness and pain that could have been avoided. I’ve spoken and written about the importance of visibility, but I’ve had to learn this lesson over and over again. I learned that “coming out” for me is not a single event, but a series of events.

I was hesitant to write this column. I said to myself, who cares about a middle-aged man’s journey of revelation in an age when children come out before adolescence? But I remembered what I learned when I wrote my book: I’m not the only one. There are others out there with similar stories, thinking they are the one.

To them, the oldest, I give the gift of being seen and reflected. I give this story and hope it helps. I give the gift of permission that I gave myself and that my late brother gave me. Merry Christmas.

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